The WBC Post (Part 1: Arrival and the Semi Finals)

May 26th, 2006

(warning – another long post with lots of photos!)
another warning – my head is still a mess and I will forget stuff!

So – the WBC…. What an incredible experience. I arrived on the Tuesday evenings, having found Switzerland full of every intention to fulfil its international cliche (nothing but adverts for watches in the airport and suitably wondrous trains).

Bern

I was glad to be in the Novotel over the road from the Expo as (like everyone competing) I had far too much luggage. Snuck into town to meet up with Anette who had been there since Monday and was with Jeff Talyer, Chris White, Emma Markland-Webster and Joseph Riviera.

Chris, Joseph and Jeff:

Wednesday was all about picking up some last bits and pieces and a few ingredients for the comp. Coming back to the Expo after I met up with Sammy Piccolo, Jackie Mweni, Klaus Thomsen and a few other competitors. They’d just finished setting up all the practise machines so they said we were welcome to have an hour on them. I had nothing with me so I ended up hanging out with Sammy on a machine as he madly pulled shots for everyone around him. I have to say the ones I had were absolutely delicious. I sometimes worry that we lose all persepctive at WBC. Take me anywhere in the world and show me a better shot than I had there, and I will pay $1000 for it. I am not saying you couldn’t get a different shot, which difference nuance and texture and qualities – but thinking about it: I have one of the best baristas in the world, working with a new top machine, new grinder, high quality coffee, freshly and carefully roasted. How does it get any better? I am still annoyed I never got a shot from Klaus. I have some of their coffee though.

Sammy and Anette backstage (I hate flash and everyone moves too fast!):

Anyway – rant over. I could say the same thing about the double shot of Hairbender that Bronwen pulled me the day after…

On Wednesday evening Anette and I wandered into Bern and ended up in the same place as Klaus, Siggadora and Peter (the roastmaster from Estate Coffee). Last year in Seattle I had the impression that things weren’t all that friendly backstage. This year there was a great atmosphere amongst the competitors.

Thursday was the competitors meeting. Oddly I was nervous to stand up in front of 40 of my co-baristas to introduce myself. This, in my head, didn’t bode well for nerves the next day. Some people started practising on Thursday so I just got out of the way. I was last up on Friday so I didn’t have any time on the machine til Thursday morning.

That evening Anette and I went out with Troels, Morten and Jens from Kontra, Njall, Stine, Tim Wendleboe and Sarah from Barista Mag. I am convinced I’ve forgotten someone and I will be a dead man. Anyway – the food was good, the conversation often in a language I don’t understand but still very entertaining. The lady who ran the restaurant worked out we were all in coffee. After dinner we were offered coffee and Tim decided he would accept if he could make it. So off he goes to the bar to get stuck into the little Cimbali.

The espresso Tim produced was pretty damned awful! Looked ok – tasted like coffee’s painful, rancid death.

Not a fan:

Truly the fudge was the saving grace (Morten looks very relieved):

Tim serves the delightful muck:

This was almost a relief. The whole idea behind my presentation is that it is all about the coffee. All our potential (as baristas) lies there. So to see the best in the world serve filth, because thats all he had to start with.

So…..

The Semi Finals

I’d decided not to watch anyone before going on. Prep time had gone ok and I was nervously pacing around backstage when I was pounced upon by Nick Cho (the podcasting machine) and Ellie from Intelligencia. I was nervous and babbled about for a bit. I am sure it is pretty obvious in the podcast up at portafilter.net

(Mark Prince took the awesome photos from my set – I think they are great!)

I wanted a really stripped down, simple presentation this year. It was all about the coffees I was using.
I used a little oak for the place settings and that was about it.

About to go:

The crowd was really great for me, really supportive. Things went wrong pretty early in the competition when I went to pour my first capps and noticed something was wrong. Turning back I found the second set of shots still pouring (and pouring and pouring). Had to dump them as they were way too long. I can’t pretend my brain didn’t suggest serving them. But no, at WBC you serve the best you can. So I dumped them, annouced I had screwed up and went on to build them again.

Pouring a capp:

I have to say the audience from this point on were great – really pushed me on as I worked hard to get back on track and to stay in time. If this had happened in the UK the place would be like a mausoleum.

My blend was similar to my UK comp one:

30% Brazil Fazenda Cachoeira Canario
30% El Salvador La Fany
20% El Salvador San Roberto
20% Bolivia Anditrade BV Monterry

Not a very easy coffee, by any stretch. I presented the coffees individually as green, roast and ground so the judges could maybe interact with them a little more. This was not an easy coffee to nail, lots of acidity and very easy to lose the balance which it needs. When it is on the money its great, interesting, different and very pleassing.

The signature drink: Split

I had a lot of questions and comments about this afterwards so I suppose I better explain.

I used fluid gels. These move like liquids but once stationary will gel. The idea came from the Fat Duck who use them to serve a tea that is hot in one half of the cup, and cold in the other. If you pour into your vessel with a divider in and then remove it they stay seperated.

Flavour wise I used Glogg (can’t find the o with the line through it – sorry Scandanavia!) on one side. It is basically mulled wine spice – clove, cinnamon, cardamon and all sorts. It is traditionally served with almonds so I infused some almond essence and some roasted almonds into a little cream (for colour and texture).

In the perfomance I have two batches of plain gel (taste like water) which I flavour with a little aerolatte (can anyone confirm if I am the first to take this tool to the WBC finals?) I then pour them into their glasses:

Pouring:

Dividers removed:

On top of this I wanted to put a coffee mousse. I added a little honey to the espresso. In the honey there was a plant extract that has some cool foaming properties. A lot of people have done coffee mousses but I worked very hard on the texture of mine. You don’t get much volume, but it feels very pleasant (for about 30 seconds then the coffee gets really bitter!).

Preparing the mousse:

Unleashing any sort of liquid from the cream whipper can be frightening. I was pleased I didn’t screw it up.

I had an amazing time on stage, really good fun.

In the next exciting episode:

The latte art comp, the announcements, the WBC Finals, The winner and the barista party.

Stay tuned…

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